The House of Representatives passed the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) for second reading towards the end of 2020 and it is set to complete work on the proposed legislation this year. PHILIP NYAM reviews the process
Unarguably, the oldest bill in the history of Nigerian parliament is the “Bill for an act to provide for legal, governance, regulatory and fiscal framework for the Nigeria petroleum industry, the development of host communities; and for related matters,” popularly known as the PIB, which for the umpteenth time passed through second reading in the House of Representatives in November, 2020.
The passage was in fulfillment of the promise made by the Speaker of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, when he was elected to lead the chamber and also in compliance with the legislative agenda of the 9th Assembly to ensure that the bill finally becomes law after many years of failed attempts. The executive arm led by President Muhammadu Buhari had also at different fora expressed its willingness to have the proposed legislation passed in order to transform the nation’s oil and gas sector. This explains why the current version of the bill is sponsored by the executive.
Before the passage, Gbajabiamila had assured that differing interests will not be able to frustrate the process of the bill this time as the 9th Assembly is keen on seeing it passed and receive presidential assent.
While many analysts are optimistic that given the synergy between the leadership of the legislature and the executive, the PIB may finally make it to the nation’s statute books, the question, however, is: Will the House lived up to its promises when it reconvenes later this month or will the bill continue its ding-dong journey to nowhere?
Being an executive bill, the leader of the House, Alhassan Ado-Doguwa (APC, Kano) moved for the second reading and he was seconded by Musa Sarkin Adar (APC, Sokoto), who is the chairman of the House Committee on Petroleum Resources (Upstream). In his lead debate, Ado-Doguwa said that the PIB is a very important piece of legislation that has been in the works since the Fifth Assembly but he expressed optimism that the Ninth Assembly will be able to make history that has eluded the Nigerian people.
He stated that the bill was presented to the presidency for assent by the 8th Assembly, but a lot of interests made it impossible for assent to be granted. He, therefore, praised the vision of Speaker Gbajabiamila and the President of the Senate, Senator Ahmad Lawan, who engaged the presidency to give them a stake in the bill and ensure it succeeds this time.
Ado-Doguwa stated that the passage of the bill will ensure an unprecedented institutional reform to enable international best practices in the Nigerian oil sector and bring it at par with others globally. He explained that the new PIB makes room for both the oil downstream and upstream sectors to be ideally regulated via well-structured commissions. He also identified the new innovations in the bill aimed at ensuring that Nigeria derives the maximum benefits and profits of the sector.
He also stated that these innovations would ensure critical infrastructural development and also make the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to be structured to function as a company aimed at making profits from its businesses, so that government could stop losing critical revenue. “The new innovations would also allow NNPC to effectively discharge its statutory responsibilities,” he stated, adding that when the bill is passed, “its operation would open up the market for more employment, engagement and wealth creation, which will have the spiral effect of reducing insecurity, banditry, kidnapping and ensure wealth creation.”
Supporting the proposition, the chairman, House Committee on Petroleum Resources (Upstream), Musa Sarkin Adar (APC, Sokoto), stated that the bill is coming at a time Nigeria can ill afford to keep losing scarce financial resources, especially as a direct fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. He stated that with the discovery of oil in different African countries; Nigeria needs to operate an oil sector that will ensure maximum profitability that can ensure wealth for Nigeria and Nigerians. This, he stated, will reduce social inequality. Adar noted that the PIB will ensure that agencies of government in the oil industry can be held accountable to the Nigerian people as well as the people of the oil-producing region and not being used to enrich few individuals.
Contributing to the debate, the Minority Leader, Ndudi Elumelu (PDP, Delta), stated that the PIB is long overdue as it seeks to institutionalise good governance and the ease of doing business as well as the elimination of sharp practices in the oil sector. He added that with the world looking to go green in less than 20 years, it makes it pertinent for Nigeria to gain maximally from the oil sector and look to explore other oil products before petroleum goes obsolete as a commodity.
Hon. Abubakar Fulata (APC, Jigawa), who expressed joy that the midstream oil sector is being revitalised, praised the envisage seriousness in gas exploration through the tenets of the bill. Also, hailing the bill, Rotimi Agunsoye (APC, Lagos) stated that the bill seeks to ensure a well-structured business climate for local and international businesses to thrive.
In his contribution, the Chief Whip, Mohammed Tahir Monguno (APC, Borno) stated that the bill with such components as the frontier exploration fund would ensure the proceeds of oil are channeled to more profitable and hitherto untapped ventures. He also praised the aspect seeking to ensure more development for the host communities. Deputy Chief Whip, Nkeiruka Onyejeocha (APC, Abia) said passage of the bill is long overdue and hoped that the issues that made it not receive presidential assent in the past would truly be dealt with, so that the process can be completed this time.
She wondered why some stakeholders, especially external forces are bent on frustrating the bill and urged for patriotism, so that it will be passed. Similarly, chairman of the House committee on Petroleum Resources (Downstream), Victor Nwokolo (PDP, Delta) praised the specifics of percentages of the International Oil Companies (IOCs) income that will be remitted to the host communities, and what such funds would be used for, so that the people of the region can benefit and not be swindled by a few leaders.
He also praised the bill for seeking to check such vices as multiple taxations and other abnormal business practices that make business in the oil sector stringent as well as the demystification of the powers of the Petroleum minister from being both a regulator and an active participant. Speaking from another perspective, spokesperson for the House, Benjamin Kalu (APC, Abia) decried the way and manner Nigerians have not benefited maximally from the proceeds of the oil industry.
This, he stated is due to the manner the sector was structured in a lopsided manner to favour the international companies and the countries they represent. He, therefore, praised the numerous innovations in the bill aimed at making the Nigerian oil sector a well-structured one compatible with what is obtainable internationally. On his part, the chairman, House Committee on Defence, Babajimi Benson (APC, Lagos), said: “It is high time scarce resources are channeled where there is a sure and abundant expectation for high returns.” He stated that the PIB as it is structured now will ensure a prosperous, wholesome and sane Nigerian oil sector.
In his submission, Henry Archibong (PDP, Akwa Ibom) stated that with time running out on the high profitability of petroleum, it is pertinent to ensure that all critical stakeholders, both national and international are on the same page. Also praising the bill, Henry Nwawuba (PDP, Imo) stated that the PIB can be looked at as the cardinal point of focus for the Ninth Assembly and everything should be done to ensure the success of the bill as well as its application.
He praised the diversification of the midstream sector and called for the investing of proceeds of oil into other cleaner energy programs and systems such as commercial fishing, agriculture, infrastructural development and industrialisation. Nwawuba called for early interactions between the executive and the legislature so that everyone will be on the same page from the inception. Deputy Minority Leader, Toby Okechukwu (PDP, Enugu) called on leaders and stakeholders in the oil sector to show strength of character, commitment and patriotism as well as support the passage of the PIB for the nation to return to the track of industrial progress.
He reiterated the fact that “a working PIB would expunge indigenes’ agitation, insecurity and youth restiveness, as the indigenes and youths will be meaningfully engaged in the oil sector and will see themselves as stakeholders with all to lose from the disruption of the activities of the sector.” Hon. Uzoma Nkem-Abonta (PDP, Abia) decried the long time it has taken for the bill to see the hope of passage, especially as it can lift Nigerians out of extreme poverty through a well-structured business environment backed by a well-formed legal framework. He called on members of the House to treat the bill with all seriousness.
On his part, Francis Uduyok (PDP, Akwa Ibom) harped on the need to address the plight of the host communities in the hands of the IOCs and urged that their concerns be taken seriously. This was again reiterated by Nnam Obi (PDP, Rivers), who stated that host oil communities suffer from deprivation, neglect, poverty, community and ecological degradation. Hon. Obinna Chidoka (PDP, Anambra), called for the implementation of the bill in the best interest of Nigerians, so that history will favourably remember the Ninth Assembly for doing its bit for the betterment of Nigeria. After the debate, the bill was voted on, passed for second reading and referred to the ad-hoc committee on PIB for further legislative actions.